Experts explain when a slight cough or sneeze can be harmful

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PETALING JAYA - If you think that a slight cough or sneeze is harmless, you cannot be more mistaken.

Studies have shown that droplets can travel up to a distance of 2m - about the size of a queen-sized mattress!

With the Covid-19 outbreak, health experts said protecting others from your cough or sneeze is a matter of utmost importance, as the droplets can travel far and remain airborne.

In 2014, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found that while large droplets could travel up to about 2m, smaller ones could travel much further.

Tiny and evaporating droplets can be trapped in a puff cloud and land on surfaces 6m to 8m away.

The research found that such droplets could also stay suspended in the air for up to several minutes. While it may be easy to use one's hands to cover an incoming cough or sneeze, the World Health Organisation (WHO) does not recommend that.

"If you sneeze or cough into your hands, you may contaminate objects or people whom you touch, " it said in its online advice on the coronavirus outbreak.

WHO has proposed at least a 1m distance to be maintained between people, especially for those who are coughing, sneezing and having a fever.

To limit the possibility of spreading respiratory illnesses, the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention advised people to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze.

The tissue must then be disposed of in a waste basket.

However, if there is no tissue available, people should not cough or sneeze into their hands but into their upper sleeves or the bend of their arm.

Even so, hands must be kept clean by washing them with soap and water.

"Keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others."

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"Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean running water, " it said on its website."

"If clean running water is not accessible, use soap and available water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol to clean hands."

"Cough etiquette is especially important for infection control measures in healthcare settings, such as emergency departments, doctors' offices and clinics, " it added. The US National Foundation for Infectious Diseases also noted that people should avoid touching their faces, to prevent infectious illnesses.

"Hands down (is) the way to go. It's classic good manners to keep your hands below your shoulders when in public."

"The idea is to avoid touching your face, which may also help keep you from getting sick after rubbing your nose, mouth or eyes with unclean hands, " it advised.

It also encouraged people to keep hand sanitisers and tissues with them at all times, and to offer it to others who are coughing or sneezing near them.